“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end anymore. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning” – Steven Spielberg
I posted the above quote recently on our Instagram page (@nollywoodreinvented) and mentioned how I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. From the quote, it almost seems as if Spielberg has mentioned a positive thing but yet introduced it in a negative light.
Many years back, I watched a Bollywood movie called “Vivah”. In retrospect, that movie might have been 3 hours long but it probably only had about 15 minutes of conflict in it (I might be exaggerating, but it felt like it). And here I have to clarify what a conflict is.
They tell you that in storytelling you should have an exposition which is kind of like an introduction to your characters, then your rising action which builds up to the main conflict, then a falling action and a resolution. The conflict can be anything based on the genre of the film. In a marvel film it could be the main fight sequence between villains and heroes, in a romance, it’s where they break up after they have finally managed to link up and then they make up again, in a typical juju movie it is where the juju finally works and it’s right before you call in the pastor.
In that movie, the rising action, climax, falling action and resolution all happened in 5% of the movie, yet it was a widely loved movie. Since then I have noticed that my favorite types of movies involve less drama. They are the kind of movies that focus more on building relationships and portraying that than on creating conflict and extending that or resolving that.
However, it is not just me. Many of our recently acclaimed movies have fine tuned the art of building relationships, but not just that, they have mastered the art of journey-storytelling.
Much of my critique of recent Nollywood storytelling (and dare I say, much of the reason why DC Comics has failed to be as great as Marvel in the realm of comic book movies) is because they have mastered the art of the spectacle and failed in the art of relationships. We no longer take the time out to build up our characters – to show who they are, to show their back story, to let us know what motivates them, to show their true characters; so at the end, the audience can connect with them.
I find myself saying in reviews that at the end of the movie, I have no investment into the character’s sorrows. Then I throw on the caveat of “well I guess the movie only has so much it can do in 90 minutes”. However, if we attempt to replicate the Vivah formula and spend 95% of our movie time on relationships and less time on the conflict, it might create beneficial results. And this has worked for us recently too (think of simple movies like “A Place Called Happy” and “Family Man“).
Mastering this art is what results in movies with villains that appeal (think Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Grinch, heck even “Loki” from the Avengers). Have you ever been watching a movie with a clear cut designated “bad guy” and “good guy” and yet you find yourself rooting for the bad guy? It’s that appeal.
I feel storytelling when done right today is leaning more towards reality even in the most unrealistic stories (think Magneto in X-men). Storytelling, when done right these days, involves building real characters who have real back stories and real struggles that have caused them to become the real people with real conflicts that they are today.
It’s the reason why movies about journeys (like “Eat Pray Love” or “Nebraska” or “Highway”) do so well in all industries. It is because even though the character starts off at a certain physical location and ends up in another, by the end the character himself has also traveled a distance from who he was before.
The first Nollywood movie that comes to mind in this category is “Journey to Self“. At the end of that movie, our characters had grown and along the way, the viewers had developed a connection to these characters and that was the entirety of the movie. In a way you could say, the movie ended with new characters than it began with. And these new characters are at the beginning of a whole new story so it’s almost like… I don’t know… a story that never stops beginning.
This is because life in itself is a story that never stops beginning.